This is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents because of diet and lifestyle. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one third of children and teenagers were overweight or obese in 2012. Childhood obesity is responsible for 50 percent of pediatric diabetes, sleep apnea, and asthma, and 70 percent of obese youth have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Overweight and obese children are often undernourished. It may seem counter intuitive but many high-calorie convenience foods are nutrient deficient. Children who are malnourished—even briefly—can experience irreversible cognitive and physical impairments. One third of children and their parents are not meeting daily requirements for fruits, grains, and vegetables.
What we can do – improve the quality of food we feed our children and engage them in the process.
Connect with food sources
There are several ways to connect kids with their food sources. As a family, you can shop at a farmer’s market where you can discover new varieties of favorite foods, such as rainbow carrots or white eggplants, and talk with local farmers in your area. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another great way to connect kids to regional farms. Find local programs, such as Health Barn USA, that offer programs to kids about growing, farming, and cooking their own food.
Try planting and growing your own food at home. It doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking: if you’re new to the idea or it sounds dreadful, start small. Buy a potted basil plant and keep it in the kitchen. If you’re feeling more ambitious, try an herb garden or growing a few herbs and veggies in garden boxes.
Teach kids how to cook
The days of home economics in schools are long gone, but we still need to learn how to cook: it’s a basic life skill. Cooking for yourself and your family is hands down the number one way to improve your health and the health of your loved ones. The earlier you involve children in the kitchen the better. Fifteen-month-olds can throw food in a blender; two-year-olds can tear lettuce, and three-year-olds can stir, knead bread, and even use knives! Undoubtedly, it will be messier, more time consuming, and potentially more hair raising, but the investment will pay off— eventually—and here’s how:
Children who cook are more likely to try new foods and even eat them! Kids who are involved in the process, picking out the produce, gathering the herbs, mixing the dough, are more likely to try the end product. I’ve seen classrooms of elementary-aged children eat hummus and veggies just because they made it themselves.
Cooking with children facilitates the perfect setting to discuss their health and healthy ingredients. When making salmon, you can talk about omega-3 fatty acids and how they can “make you smart,” Yogurt parfait presents an opportunity to discuss probiotics and gut health. A rainbow of fresh fruits and vegetables will help ensure you get a wide range of vitamins and minerals, plus with water, they can help your poop come out without hurting. When kids have the opportunity to make food themselves—like guacamole—they know what ingredients it takes to make it and what shouldn’t be in there, such as ascorbic acid and calcium chloride. You can build on this at the grocery store and help them read labels.
“If a third grader can’t read it, don’t eat it,” – Michael Pollan
Free Kid-Friendly Recipes
If you’re looking to get started cooking with your kids or need some ideas to mix it up, check out our free e-book of kid-friendly recipes. It provides a variety of healthy recipes for all eaters. Kids are all individuals and some will eat spinach at face value while others need a little marketing, like Shrek muffins, or The Hulk muffins, or Kermit the Frog muffins. You know your little ones best; be creative and have fun together! Happy eating.